On the surface, dark horse Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson and President Donald Trump could not be more different. The president tweets insults, stokes crowds into a rage and rattles the sword. He uses the often-jingoistic language of muscular Christianity ("In America we worship God, not government") to evoke the vision of a middle America made "great again." Meanwhile, Williamson, a self-help spiritualist (and onetime adviser to Oprah Winfrey), preaches a gospel of "love" and "oneness," blending a chipper New Age sensibility with progressive politics. In the Democratic debate Tuesday, she condemned the "dark psychic force" of hatred that she said Trump has unleashed, saying it could be combated only by "something emotional and psychological" - which only she could bring forth - accompanied by a dose of "deep truth-telling" on the subject of race. She's called for a "moral and spiritual awakening" in the United States.
But Williamson has more in common with Trump than she - and indeed many voters - might admit, and it's not just that both have used personal celebrity as a springboard into politics. At their core, both are also prime representatives of one of the most important and formative spiritual trends in American life: the notion that we can transform our material circumstances through faith in our personal willpower. Trump's authoritarian cult of personality and Williamson's belief in the power of "self-actualization" both come from the quintessentially American conviction that the quickest and surest route to Ultimate Reality can be found within our selves.